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Universal Basic Income: A Tool to Reimagine Human Dignity?

Posted By Administration, Thursday, May 3, 2018
Updated: Monday, February 25, 2019

Daniel Riveong has written his third installment in our Emerging Fellows program. Here, he explores the possibilities of governments implementing a universal basic income. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

Since the late 1990s, there has been an explosion in excitement around the idea of universal basic income (UBI). As of April 2018, there are UBI pilots underway in parts of Canada, the United States, Netherlands, Spain and other countries. While the concept was previously popular among policymakers in the 1970s, today’s interest in UBI has been driven by increasing anxiety over inequality and the threat of automation, especially among Western countries. For the Global South, UBI could be a useful tool to challenge our ideas about labor, poverty, and dignity and help us imagine alternatives.

The concept of UBI is less radical in the Global South as countries like Indonesia, El Salvador, and Brazil already has extensive conditional cash-transfer programs (CCT). Brazil, for example, is home to Bolsa Família one of the most famous conditional-cash transfers, which provides qualifying poor families cash-aide in return for school attendance. UBI differs from CCT in that is supposed to be both universal and unconditional. It is less open to political favoritism, corruption, and avoids debates over defining poverty.

For much of the Global South, the promise of UBI – rather than a bulwark against automation or inequality – is as a powerful tool to alleviate poverty. The assumption here is that the lack of income is a major source of poverty. At its most utopian, UBI is an attempt to decouple the myth that a dignified life – a life of security, health, and education – requires labor-derived income. Further, if we can decouple dignity from labor then we can also challenge the need for endless economic growth.

To spin this the other way, if dignity is not dependent on labor and an economy driven by growth then from what path? Answering this question, there are proposals for a Universal Basic Services (UBS): universal access to housing, food, healthcare, education, and efficient government services. Government policy focus on UBS could a framework for accomplishing the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), which also focus on ending poverty through better access and better quality of services. Additionally, by focusing on access to services over income, it would help support the movement to shift away from GDP as the leading indicator of welling being.

For the Global South, where such access may not be as robustly supported by the government, universal access to services may be more critical than receiving an unconditional income from the government. Indeed, a set basic monthly income may pale in comparison to housing cost, where the cities of the Global South – such as Hanoi or São Paulo – rank among the most unaffordable in the world.

Together, UBI and UBS are powerful concepts that could multiply the number of possible futures. Given the correct set of larger supporting policies, these policies can encourage entrepreneurship, risk-taking, and innovation to reimagine capitalism as a tool to maximize an individual’s opportunities rather than maximize corporate growth. More powerfully, however, by asking us to disaggregate labor, income, and dignity it may help pave the creation of new post-capitalism alternatives.


© Daniel Riveong 2018

Tags:  economics  politics  society 

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Should we learn to stop worrying and love the bomb?

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, May 2, 2018
Updated: Monday, February 25, 2019

Craig Perry has written his fifth installment in our Emerging Fellows program. His entire series explores the potential for another Great-power War. This piece looks at the Cold War and issues surrounding the atomic bomb. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

“There’s no such thing as a winnable war, it’s a lie we don’t believe anymore.” – Sting, “Russians”

The Cold War was a scary time for citizens on both sides of the Iron Curtain. The United States and the Soviet Union each wielded massive nuclear arsenals with the capacity to destroy the world many times over—and they came perilously close to unleashing these awful weapons on more than one occasion. Yet for all the anxiety this decades-long standoff entailed, it fostered an uneasy peace between the superpowers.

Once the United States demonstrated the terrible potential of the atom bomb at the end of World War II, it was only a matter of time before the Soviet Union and other would-be great powers sought to acquire their own nukes. By the 1960s, the two superpowers had so many warheads—deliverable by a triad of airborne, land-based, and submarine platforms managed by robust command-and-control systems—that neither side could launch first without precipitating a devastating counterattack. The era of mutually assured destruction had begun.

While such strategic deterrence has produced a degree of stability in international affairs, it also creates perverse disincentives for arms control. Any developments that might undermine this suicide pact—for example, by defeating incoming weapons (anti-ballistic missile systems), overwhelming missile defenses (multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles), or making limited regional nuclear exchanges more plausible (intermediate-range nuclear forces)—are seen by the other side as dangerously provocative. Even the dramatic cutbacks of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and the follow-on New START left Moscow and Washington with more than enough firepower to obliterate each other. In the nuclear arms race, at least, Russia remains every bit as powerful as its American rival.

Yet while mutually assured destruction makes large-scale wars between nuclear powers less likely, it paradoxically permits them to engage in smaller conflicts without fear of escalation. During the Cold War, U.S. nuclear strategy quickly evolved to deemphasize massive retaliation in favor of more flexible responses as the superpowers found themselves embroiled in numerous proxy conflicts. This stability-instability paradox also encourages nuclear proliferation among lesser powers seeking to guarantee their own regime survival. Although small nuclear stockpiles with limited delivery means may deter regional rivals (e.g. India/Pakistan), they offer no guarantee against a determined great power—and a rogue regime’s pursuit of the bomb can just as easily provoke crippling sanctions and preemptive war.

While the end of the Cold War reduced the risk of global thermonuclear war, it hasn’t done much to curb the enthusiasm of great powers to maintain and enhance their strategic forces. Shortly after the Pentagon released its 2018 nuclear posture review calling for new low-yield warheads and sea-launched cruise missiles, the Russian president publicly revealed several other weapons under development. Meanwhile, China continues to modernize its much smaller but quite capable triad as a hedge against first-use by its great-power rivals—and has likely reconsidered its previous, destabilizing support for Pakistani and North Korean nuclear ambitions.

Not surprisingly, efforts to ban the bomb—including the 2017 UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons—enjoy almost no support among nuclear powers and America’s NATO allies. Still, with the majority of the world’s states, the ocean floor, and even outer space now legally designated nuclear-weapons-free zones, there is a growing international consensus that nuclear warfare is beyond the pale. Despite some backsliding in recent years, the great powers are generally committed to arms control and nonproliferation as a means of preserving strategic stability—and even junior members of the nuclear club have existential incentives to behave responsibly. But whether or not you love the bomb, there’s not much point worrying about what’s become a necessary evil in our anarchic international system, which will continue deterring great-power conflict for the foreseeable future.


© Craig Perry 2018

Tags:  politics  strategy  war 

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Surveillance capitalism and the liberal democracy

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, April 17, 2018
Updated: Monday, February 25, 2019

Nichola Cooper‘s fourth post in our Emerging Fellows program explores privacy, trust, and social media. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

When Mark Zuckerberg was designing The Facebook in 2004, he was staggered that people were willing to share their personal data, “they just submitted it, I don’t know why, they just trust me – dumb f**ks”.

Well, those “dumb” people have just realised what Facebook harvests and monetises personal data for in the Cambridge Analytica shenanigans. Zuckerberg is contrite, of course, that’s this thing; apologising for a “breach of trust.” But, users don’t really trust social platforms anyway. Their upset is probably because they didn’t see this coming. It’s the advertisers Zuckerberg is really apologising to. Facebook’s business model relies on users sharing content and being receptive to advertisers’ messages. As the mantra goes: “if the service is free, you are the product”. Judging by the #deletefacebook and #faceblock campaigns, people don’t want to be a product.

Of course, widespread abandonment of social media is unlikely. In a globalised world we need a way of connecting, so regulators are starting to act. On 25 May, the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will come into effect which will shift the balance of power from the company to the user and Facebook will need to watch their step. Article 25 – privacy by design – addresses how privacy protocol redesign should be interpreted: proactively. Yet, given Facebook’s history of asking for forgiveness over permission, users might be forgiven for expecting future privacy breaches despite regulatory controls.

Looking forward, there remain serious concerns about the future of democracy. The UK Information Commissioner’s Office is investigating 30 organisations – including Facebook – as part of its inquiry into the use of personal data and analytics for political purposes. The UK’s final European Commissioner for security, Sir Julian King, writing to the European Commission that Cambridge Analytica’s psychometric profiling during the Vote Leave Brexit Campaign was “a preview of the profoundly disturbing effects such disinformation could have on the functioning of liberal democracies”, asking for plans to manage social media companies in preparation for the European political campaigns of 2019. Emmanuel Macron supports Sir Julian, promising to ban fake news during election campaigns. It follows Malaysia. One of the first countries in the world to put an Anti-Fake News bill before parliament which will penalise those who create or circulate fake news with 10-years imprisonment or a fine of up to 500,000 ringgit (£90,000).

Then there are Comcast and Verizon to worry about. After the US Congress extended the same data-gathering practices to internet service providers like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon, US consumers are concerned about their role as internet gatekeepers. The risks of exploiting personal data are far higher, beyond unsolicited book recommendations. Several companies are holding the length and breadth of your entire digital footprint. Take China as an example; from May, Chinese citizens with poor “social credit” may be banned from public transport for up to a year based on what they buy, say and do.

We are at a critical juncture where the sociopolitical consequences of surveillance capitalism can get much better, or much worse. Can we afford to not pay attention?


© Nichola Cooper 2018

Tags:  economics  politics  privacy 

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With Competition Like This, Who Needs Conflict?

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, March 20, 2018
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2019

Craig Perry has written his fourth installment in our Emerging Fellows program. His entire series explores the potential for another Great-power War. This piece looks at how competition could minimize conflict. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

“If you call what’s going on now a hybrid war, let it be hybrid war. It doesn’t matter: It’s war.” – Dmitry Peskov, Kremlin spokesperson

What if the great powers really could subdue their enemies without fighting, as Sun Tzu suggested? This appears to be what Russian agents were up to in 2016 when they allegedly meddled in America’s presidential elections. According to the U.S. intelligence community and federal prosecutors, Moscow’s goals were to undermine public faith in democracy and influence the selection of the next U.S. commander-in-chief, presumably with the aim of weakening a superpower rival—or better yet, installing a favored candidate in the White House. Russians apparently were up to similar tricks in the latest French, German, and Montenegrin elections as well.

Then again, the United States and its allies are hardly innocent when it comes to interfering in other countries’ affairs—so it should come as no surprise that Moscow blames the West for much of the world’s instability, from Arab Spring uprisings to “color revolutions” across the former Soviet Union. In 2013, Gen. Valeriy Gerasimov, chief of the Russian general staff, framed these turbulent events as a new form of warfare, where political, economic, informational, humanitarian, and other nonmilitary measures are often more effective than traditional weapons. The very rules of war have changed, he concluded, and Russia’s military must adapt accordingly.

The Kremlin has clearly embraced these modern rules of war in recent years, pursuing an aggressive, whole-of-govern¬ment approach to achieving its foreign policy goals while avoiding escalation into full-blown state-on-state conflicts. This strategy of indirect action typically begins with so-called “information confrontation,” a combination of old-fashioned propaganda and modern cyber operations to shape perceptions and manipulate the behavior of target audiences. Russia’s intelligence services might then mix it up with subversive “active measures,” while the military and its proxies—ethnic compatriots, private military contractors, or even “little green men”—stand ready to up the ante while obscuring Moscow’s involvement.

Not to be outdone, China also updated its military doctrine to incorporate nonmilitary means of influence in 2003. The People’s Liberation Army’s “three warfares” strategy—encompassing public opinion, psychological, and legal warfare—is intended to control public narratives and influence perceptions to advance China’s interests while compromising the ability of opponents to respond. This approach offers China a new form of “non-kinetic” weaponry that can be combined in highly synergistic ways. For example, to advance its territorial claims in the East and South China Seas, Beijing is advancing spurious legal arguments, deploying civilian flotillas, and broadcasting propaganda portraying itself as a victim of foreign powers. Sun Tzu would be proud.

There is debate in national security circles over what to call these new forms of warfare—and whether they are really all that new. Pundits have coined terms such as “gray zone conflicts” and “hybrid warfare” to describe what others chalk up to time-honored doctrinal concepts like information operations and irregular warfare. The 2018 U.S. National Defense Strategy offered yet another buzz phrase for this phenomenon: “competition short of armed conflict.”

Whatever we call it, there is no doubt that nonmilitary methods of warfare are becoming more commonplace, for a variety of reasons. Compared to traditional combat operations, they are relatively inexpensive, deceptively innocuous, and difficult to attribute, particularly in the cyber domain. They also carry a limited risk of escalation, as even the most audacious provocations seldom trigger an armed response—especially against a nuclear power. Perhaps most importantly, these subtle, indirect approaches can sometimes affect strategic centers of gravity—such as government decision-making and political legitimacy—that are difficult to target directly with military force. Future advances in communications technology, big-data analytics, and artificial intelligence will only further enable such competition below the threshold of conflict.

This is certainly a worrying trend, as these tactics have the potential to exacerbate social divisions, undermine confidence in democratic governance, and blur distinctions between civilian and military combatants and targets. On the other hand, the more confident great powers are in their ability to secure national interests through nonmilitary means, the more likely they are to pursue less violent and risky courses of action. In other words, competition short of conflict could very well reduce the risk of future great-power wars.

 



© Craig Perry 2018

Tags:  economics  politics  war 

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The Cycles of Life

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, March 14, 2018
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2019

Polina Silakova‘s third post in our Emerging Fellows program explores Spiral Dynamics in the context of the ouroboros as a symbol for the cycles of life. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

Ouroboros – a snake eating its own tail. In many ancient cultures across the globe, this symbol represented the infinite cycle of renewal of life, a rebirth of the Earth, the continuous development of consciousness. We got used to the renewable nature of the world and learned how to benefit from it. Over centuries, humanity has been focusing on getting better, faster, more efficient – taking everything we do to the next level. In a search for better life, we tamed many types of energy, speed and even time, thanks to the advancements in health care. What is the driving force that makes us continuously strive for more, creating demand for overly saturated markets and often unnecessary exploitation of Earth?

Apparently, the answer may lay in Darwin’s Evolution by Natural Selection. Canadian evolutionary psychologists ran multiple experiments which demonstrated the link between the natural selection modules that help species survive in the wild and our consumption habits. Survival module, sexual selection, kin selection, and reciprocity – all these mechanisms from the jungle still exist in our casual lives and are covertly guiding our behaviour in grocery stores and shopping malls. They help us make the “safest” choices as dictated by the millions of years spent in a continuous fight for survival. Examples of this might be purchasing several flavours of the same type of food instead of one (to make sure we won’t die in the event of it being poisonous), buying things that make us look more attractive (to be selected by a sexual partner with more promising genes), or acquiring possessions that help a desirable group identify us as a part of their tribe. Eventually, we often end up with an amount of stuff far beyond what we need.

If this behaviour has been in our genes for generations, does it mean that as consumers we will always be primarily guided by these instincts? Maslow addresses this in his “Theory of Human Motivation” where he links our motivations to the needs we have in a particular point of time or stage of life. But allegedly, Maslow himself admitted that another theory does a better job of explaining the psychology of human development. In contrast to his focus on an individual, Graves’ theory of Spiral Dynamics explains the social and psychological development of a person and humanity in general.

This data-based approach to psychology charts the transformation in values and worldviews that humanity went through to the present, and the ones emerging. Initially, eight levels (later updated with additional one) represent different ways of how people think about things and respond to the world around them. They suggest that as the challenges we face change, so does our response to them, supported by the evolving consciousness. Like in a video game, upper levels, emerging in the context of new challenges, prompt different ways of thinking and worldviews that did not exist before.

No level is better than others and all of them coexist at any point in time. For simplicity, each level was assigned a colour. For this conversation, the most interesting is a shift between the two levels in the mid-upper part of the spiral: orange and green. Orange is about striving for success, competition, autonomy, working for abundance and reward. Think capitalism, Wall Street, show business or battles for “likes” in social media. Tired of the egocentric orange, following it, green is open to collaboration and inclusion. It values harmony, empathy, and sensitivity and becomes environmentally conscious. Some estimates suggest that worldwide for every person with green attributes there are about three people with orange attributes.

We also see lots of pseudo-green happening in the orange world with some companies using sustainability and CSR messages more as marketing tools, rather than being truly guided by these values. What matters is that at the end of the day, together with the actions of those genuinely concerned about the future of the planet, this might be slowing down the speed of destruction in the age of Anthropocene.

The question remains though, which will happen quicker: will we collectively break-through to the next cycle of human consciousness or cross a biophysical threshold to a point of no return? How much of our own tail have we eaten already? And do we need a disaster – a problem of the next level of complexity – to activate our next cycle of consciousness?

© Polina Silakova 2018

Tags:  economics  politics  society 

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Rewriting freedom of speech

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, March 13, 2018
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2019

Monica Porteanu‘s second post in our Emerging Fellows program concerns the weaponization of free speech. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

Many can only dream of having the freedom to express their opinion. The fortunate of us might take it for granted. Others might see it through biased lenses. I acknowledge mine, originating from growing up in a former communist country. In that world, information dissemination meant precisely two hours of evening TV programming. Any form of expression linked everything back to the doctrine regurgitating “glorious” dictatorship propaganda. Information beyond meant treason. Asking for a passport just to explore a different culture, stamped one as being against the system. Censorship was deeply entrenched in everyday life. It should come as no surprise that the world after the cold war sought freedom of access and expression. But with little knowledge on how to achieve that after 50 years of communist rule. As a result, even today, after almost another 30 years, the discovery of free speech is continuing. Experimentation with extreme polarization is allowed. Perhaps unknowingly, essential aspects of freedom, well-being, or even human rights are impacted. Foul language, objectifying those who are different, or talk shows exploiting fear are such examples.

However, everywhere else the discovery of what free speech may become seems to also be in question. The internet has opened massive channels of online communication. It has increased our acceptance of sharing more about ourselves, even intertwining our private and public selves. To stay informed, and to speak up when we see fit, we use a multitude of devices and apps. We freely give our consent to provide pieces of our private information. More recently though, the online life that we thought was public, has increasingly become an island that we inhabit together with those like us. The software is becoming more and more sophisticated, learning about our preferences and presenting us with the information it thinks we want. In the process, it isolates us in our own world. Not realizing we live with a different flavour of privacy, we still stay always online, expecting everything to happen now, while disseminating instantly what resonates with us, thus reinforcing the attributes of the data silo forming our world.

The paradox of the bubble is that it still drives the fragmentation of our attention with methods that have their own chapters in economics, politics, or social realms. Some are fair, some are not. Most of these methods have recently emerged and our language is catching up with the times by adding these contemporary meanings to the dictionary. For example, “someone who posts inflammatory messages online to provoke emotional responses” is called an internet troll. Sadly, though, our “always on,” instant, share-all expectations have become a medium for expanding trolling into the physical world, making it ubiquitous. With this, everything goes, it seems, including extreme, hateful, and harmful speech that has been recently coined in media as the “weaponization” of free speech.

We have the freedom of assembly, religion, and speech, or the freedom to marry and love, but is this enough? OCAD Professor Suzanne Stein argues for a “greater form of freedom: freedom from harm.”

The question is what do we do about it? Perhaps zooming into this proliferation of trolling, online anonymity, social media bubbles and their connection with the fight for our attention would provide an answer. In a world in which we’ve become omnipresent, attention fragmentation seems to illustrate the contemporary version of the divide and conquer paradigm. Attention holds the key to today’s competitive advantage, starting from the individual level. At the same time, the more we realize our attention is selective yet limited, the more we seem to crave it while giving it freely away at the expense of freedom itself. Has the freedom for attention become a basic need, and right?



© Monica Porteanu 2018

Tags:  freedom  politics  speech 

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The Trajectory of the Nation-State

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, March 7, 2018
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2019

David Roselle‘s second post in our Emerging Fellows program concerns the apparent decline of the nation-state. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

Many can only dream of having the freedom to express their opinion. The fortunate of us might take it for granted. Others might see it through biased lenses. I acknowledge mine, originating from growing up in a former communist country. In that world, information dissemination meant precisely two hours of evening TV programming. Any form of expression linked everything back to the doctrine regurgitating “glorious” dictatorship propaganda. Information beyond meant treason. Asking for a passport just to explore a different culture, stamped one as being against the system. Censorship was deeply entrenched in everyday life. It should come as no surprise that the world after the cold war sought freedom of access and expression. But with little knowledge on how to achieve that after 50 years of communist rule. As a result, even today, after almost another 30 years, the discovery of free speech is continuing. Experimentation with extreme polarization is allowed. Perhaps unknowingly, essential aspects of freedom, well-being, or even human rights are impacted. Foul language, objectifying those who are different, or talk shows exploiting fear are such examples.

However, everywhere else the discovery of what free speech may become seems to also be in question. The internet has opened massive channels of online communication. It has increased our acceptance of sharing more about ourselves, even intertwining our private and public selves. To stay informed, and to speak up when we see fit, we use a multitude of devices and apps. We freely give our consent to provide pieces of our private information. More recently though, the online life that we thought was public, has increasingly become an island that we inhabit together with those like us. The software is becoming more and more sophisticated, learning about our preferences and presenting us with the information it thinks we want. In the process, it isolates us in our own world. Not realizing we live with a different flavour of privacy, we still stay always online, expecting everything to happen now, while disseminating instantly what resonates with us, thus reinforcing the attributes of the data silo forming our world.

The paradox of the bubble is that it still drives the fragmentation of our attention with methods that have their own chapters in economics, politics, or social realms. Some are fair, some are not. Most of these methods have recently emerged and our language is catching up with the times by adding these contemporary meanings to the dictionary. For example, “someone who posts inflammatory messages online to provoke emotional responses” is called an internet troll. Sadly, though, our “always on,” instant, share-all expectations have become a medium for expanding trolling into the physical world, making it ubiquitous. With this, everything goes, it seems, including extreme, hateful, and harmful speech that has been recently coined in media as the “weaponization” of free speech.

We have the freedom of assembly, religion, and speech, or the freedom to marry and love, but is this enough? OCAD Professor Suzanne Stein argues for a “greater form of freedom: freedom from harm.”

The question is what do we do about it? Perhaps zooming into this proliferation of trolling, online anonymity, social media bubbles and their connection with the fight for our attention would provide an answer. In a world in which we’ve become omnipresent, attention fragmentation seems to illustrate the contemporary version of the divide and conquer paradigm. Attention holds the key to today’s competitive advantage, starting from the individual level. At the same time, the more we realize our attention is selective yet limited, the more we seem to crave it while giving it freely away at the expense of freedom itself. Has the freedom for attention become a basic need, and right?



© Monica Porteanu 2018

Tags:  economics  nation  politics 

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War: What Is It Good For?

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, March 6, 2018
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2019

This is Craig Perry’s third post for our Emerging Fellows program. Both of his previous articles centered on questions about war. With this latest post, he continues to give readers much to consider. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

Anarchy is a feature of our international system. Not a bug. With no supranational authority capable of policing relations between sovereign states, competition for resources and influence can naturally lead to conflict. Great powers will sometimes resort to war—despite the risk and expense this entails—when their other, nonmilitary instruments of national power come up short. As Carl von Clausewitz famously observed nearly two centuries ago, war is simply a continuation of politics by other means—namely, acts of violence to compel opponents to fulfill one’s will. The nature of war hasn’t changed much in the intervening years, even as armed conflict has become less endemic in world affairs.

If we were to construct a taxonomy of reasons great powers wage war, it might closely resemble Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Regime survival in the face of an existential threat is the most fundamental excuse for conflict, followed closely by the protection of national sovereignty or territorial integrity. Great powers may also go to war to preserve or expand their spheres of influence over less-powerful neighbors, while the defense of allies against a mutual adversary lies higher up the proverbial pyramid. At the top of the hierarchy, we would find enforcement of international law and humanitarian intervention, arguably the most enlightened—or rather, least indefensible—pretexts for war.

Whatever its causes, however, war is always an ugly business, and great powers have long sought to constrain its excesses by codifying laws governing armed conflict. In the aftermath of World War II, the victorious Allied Powers even resolved “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war” once and for all by establishing the United Nations, whose charter provided mechanisms for the pacific settlement of disputes and maintenance of international peace and security. Yet the UN Charter also enshrined the inherent right of states to defend themselves from armed attack, and granted the great powers of the day—in their roles as permanent members of the UN Security Council—sweeping authority to determine when a state of war exists; intervene militarily to restore the peace; and prevent the UN from acting against their interests. Such concessions were necessary to gain buy-in for the UN project, but this design flaw has guaranteed that future generations would continue to experience the scourge of war.

The question of what, exactly, constitutes war has taken on increased urgency in recent decades, as combatants have found ever more innovative ways to wreak havoc. Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, for example, commits NATO members to consider an armed attack against any one of them as an attack on them all. Yet the only time in its history the Alliance has invoked this provision was not in response to a conventional military assault, but rather after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In 2014, the Alliance further warned that cyberattacks could also trigger Article 5 if they reached a threshold that threatened NATO’s prosperity, security, or stability. Meanwhile, NATO has quietly dropped the qualifier “armed” when describing its Article 5 obligations in most of its communiqués—a tacit admission, perhaps, that war can come in all shapes and sizes.

Indeed, while all the great powers maintain formidable forces capable of conducting offensive military operations, they are also fielding new tools and techniques to compel opponents to fulfill their will short of armed conflict—that is, without egregiously violating international law or crossing a collective-defense threshold. Consequently, future wars may not reflect the thinking of Clausewitz so much as the ancient Chinese strategist Sun Tzu, who wrote: “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”



© Craig Perry 2018

Tags:  economics  environment  politics 

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Travelling along the scale of scarcity and abundance (and back?)

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2019

Polina Silakova is one of our Emerging Fellows, and this is her second article written for the program. In it, she explores a few options for enforcing environmentally sustainable behavior in times of scarcity and abundance.

It was a hot, late spring day from my childhood in Moscow of the early 1990s. My grandmother and I simmering in a long, slowly moving, queue in front of a grocery store. For a couple of months, the stalls have been nearly empty, with just very, very limited food available. In the pre-internet age, it made our “trips of hope” to the nearby stores a daily routine. That day we were lucky: they had cheese, hence such a hustle.

Towards lunchtime the queue started moving faster, testing my excitement. When it was our turn, I noticed with surprise that the door was defended by a bulky store assistant in a uniform, acting like a gate-keeper. The gate-keeper, who happened to be equipped with a pen, left some sort of autograph on my grandma’s hand, amplifying my confusion. Then we left. On the way home, my grandmother explained that the store was closing for a lunch break and the autograph was, in fact, our number in the queue, so that we could re-join it an hour later.

What happened after that has vanished from my recollection of that day. Although various forms of queues are still a common practice, the experience of being quite literally numbered in a queue to satisfy a most basic need left a more profound imprint in my memory than whether we actually had cheese on the table that day.

Today, in many countries consumer experience is opposite to that of post-Soviet Russia: the abundance of products make brands hunt for consumers. They spend billions of dollars on media budgets, packaging, new product development and the purchase of our data, trying to make us healthier, smarter, better people and simplifying the journey from our need to their product.

The trends of recent years indicate that additional variables have already started impacting consumer decision-making. Brands have to adapt their strategies to stay competitive. Consumers increasingly see their purchases as a statement about their identity, portraying an image they want to be known for. This raises expectations from the brands to improve transparency, become greener and more efficient if they want to recruit more consumers to their team. Companies like Method, Lush and Everlane are already actively exploring the new area of purposeful marketing, while the agency enso.co is publishing a World Value Index which ranks brands not in terms of their business success but based on what they do for the world. Will this be enough to create a positive impact at scale? Or will other factors remain the prevalent drivers of our purchases until something else will radically change our perception of our responsibility as consumers?

While enso.co is rating brands, the Chinese government (although not necessarily driven by sustainability agenda) is rating its citizens. China is undertaking a massive project of implementing a social credit system. Once rolled-out in 2020, it will rank each and every citizen based on the individual’s economic and social behaviour, as well as the scores of others in the person’s network. Things like purchases in last week’s shopping, frequent contacts circle or behaviour such as not showing up to a restaurant without cancelling your reservation – all this will count towards your personal score if you are a Chinese citizen in two years’ time.

This reward and punishment system opens a big controversy. It is hard to say whether it will actually do more good or harm to society. No matter whether we would want to live in a world like this or not, let’s imagine that the mix of the two rating ideas from above is in place: a social credit system which rates us in regard to what we do for sustainability of the world. Each time we purchase a product from a particular place or brand, or buy a coffee in a plastic cup, our public image gets shaped and our personal rating is adjusted up and down on the scale.

And what if, in a utopian future, when the scarcity of natural resources is fast approaching, and unsustainable behaviour is stigmatised in the society, our personal sustainability rating is used to allow or prohibit access to resources we need? What if this number, not written with ink on your hand, but publicly available in all databases mentioning your name, will again become our position in the line for limited resources? Will we then change our behaviour? And, most importantly, how can we change it now, so that we do not end up in such a world?


© Polina Silakova 2018

Tags:  economics  environment  politics 

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Are we too myopic and self-serving to invest in the future?

Posted By Administration, Friday, February 16, 2018
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2019

Daniel Bonin is one of our Emerging Fellows, and this is his second article for the program. He infrastructure projects as an example of the way myopic thinking sabotages how we as humans invest in our own future.

Myopic and self-serving decision making seems omnipresent. Think about people who display NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) attitudes. Or infrastructure companies and politicians who plan with wrong assumptions and within short cycles. It can constitute a blight upon future infrastructure projects. This attitude is fostered by the way we think, the way we judge, and the way we decide. The way we view the blueprint of the greater socio-economic system we interact with. It is built into the very characteristics of infrastructures.

People tend to act myopic and self-serving in contexts where decisions are (a) made seldom, are (b) costly in terms of money and cognitive load, (c) receive delayed feedback on the impact and their own contribution to the outcome and (d) would be required to forecast future emotional states to come to an educated judgment. It has to be said that making decisions about infrastructures is a perfect breeding ground for myopic and self-serving decisions.

Infrastructure planners and politicians often assume lay people to be just as knowledgeable and rational as they are. Experts often fail to acknowledge the emotions that are at play when lay people consider planned infrastructures as risky and expect adverse consequences in their backyard. The result is a manifestation of self-serving and myopic thinking, famously known as not in my backyard attitude.

Political and business cycles also foster myopic and self-serving decisions. Politicians have an incentive to postpone uncomfortable infrastructure decisions to secure votes by redistributing economic funds to other social issues or ban projects that are subject to protests of their electorates. Also for businesses, short-term bonuses and serving terms are undermining long-term orientation, thereby facilitating a real diabolic mentality, namely corruption in planning, building and running infrastructures. This severe issue of corruption is encouraged when short-term and self-serving thinking becomes a normal way to behave in organizations and institutions.

There are a few positive developments with respect to our weaknesses to be mentioned: more immersive ways to experience the impact of one’s myopic decisions in the present on one’s future-self have shown to reduce our hunger for instant gratification. This might help to overcome the characteristics of decisions about infrastructures that make the evaluation of them so tricky. For instance, virtual realities can overcome a lack of imagination when it comes to forecast the impact and risk of infrastructure on daily life and thereby alleviate unjustified concerns. In a similar vein, social and frugal innovation increase the acceptance of infrastructures and help to establish their future orientation. Joint involvement of state, local communities and businesses can create win-win-situations for people as it should not be forgotten that infrastructure projects can revitalize regions.

That being said, several trends lead to the conclusion that myopic and self-serving attitudes will continue to undermine future-oriented thinking about infrastructures. Growing social inequalities make it more difficult to put oneself in the shoes of someone else, thereby heightening self-serving behavior. The gap between experts and lay people is also likely to be exacerbated by the shift towards a knowledge economy and a growing role of automation and artificial intelligence, both of which are pushed into the world by experts. The possible downturn of the nation-state and rise of city mayors and grass root movements reduces the degree of coordination and likelihood of top-down interventions that overrule not in my backyard or neighborhood attitudes. It remains questionable if a bottom up push could really lead to more long-term thinking. Much will still depend on the location of infrastructures compared to one’s backyard or neighborhood. At the same time, growing individualism increasingly influence even traditionally collectivist societies. Demographic change and tight state budgets cause older people to seek solutions for their most pressing short-term issues. Younger generations feel ignored and fear being marginalized. A sound and future oriented society would put more emphasis on the voice and needs of younger generations. And it is this very generation and their successors that will live with the infrastructures of tomorrow in 2050.

All in all, myopic and self-serving thinking is deeply entrenched in our nature and likely here to stay. This is driven by a variety of strong factors and trends: the way humans behave together with the nature of infrastructure decision making, along with distorted incentive schemes and cycles in politics and business. These foster our short-term and selfish thinking about social inequalities, aging societies, marginalized younger people and growing individualization.

Are we too myopic and self-serving to invest in the future? Yes. Will we continue to be so in the future? Likely.


© Daniel Bonin 2018

Tags:  economics  environment  politics 

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